Apple is facing yet another antitrust lawsuit over its App Store fees, this time filed by a group of French iOS app developers who are suing the tech giant in its home state of California. The plaintiffs are accusing Apple of anticompetitive practices in allowing only one App Store for iOS devices, which gives it a monopoly in iOS app distribution and the ability to force developers to pay high commissions on in-app purchases.
The complaint argues that these commissions, on top of Apple's $99 annual developer program fees, cut into developers' earnings and stifle innovation -- and yet developers aren't permitted to offer alternative payment methods per Apple's App Store rules nor can they distribute their apps to iOS users outside of the App Store, despite Apple allowing this on Mac computers.
The case is now one of several antitrust legal battles Apple is facing, including the high-profile lawsuit with Fortnite maker Epic Games, which is under appeal and another by alternative app store Cydia.
The iOS developers in the suit include France-based developers Société du Figaro, the developer of the Figaro news app; L’Équipe 24/24, the developer of L’Équipe sports news and streaming app; and le GESTE, a French association comprised of France-based publishers of online content and services, including iOS app developers.
The group is being represented by U.S.-based Hagens Berman law firm, which last year won a $100 million settlement against Apple over App Store policies and recently filed a $1 billion case against Apple over antitrust issues with Apple Pay.
Hagens Berman’s managing partner Steve Berman has a history of winning against the tech giants, having secured a $560 million settlement against Apple regarding e-book price-fixing and a $90 million settlement on behalf of Android developers. He's working with Paris-based antitrust lawyer Fayrouze Masmi-Dazi on the proposed class action lawsuit.
"We’re fresh off the heels of our hard-won settlement with Apple and ready to get back in the ring,” said Berman, in a statement. "Our firm is happy to see iOS developers from other countries seeking the same justice we were able to achieve for U.S. developers. We believe they too have been wrongfully subjected to the stifling policies of Apple’s App Store, and we intend to hold Apple to the law."
The suit aims to force Apple to allow competition in iOS app distribution and remove pricing mandates which restrict developers from setting their own rates for in-app purchases. It also wants to Apple to reimburse developers for "overcharges," and prevent Apple from raising the current 15% commission for developers in its Small Business Program for at least three years.
In addition, the proposed settlement would allow Apple's U.S. iOS developers to communicate with their customers outside their apps about other ways to purchase beyond Apple's in-app purchase system. Developers would be allowed to communicate with customers using information collected by their apps, subject to consumer consent and opt-outs. Apple, however, already announced a settlement that allows such communication last year, and subsequently updated its App Store rules to reflect this change.
If the developers win, it would not be the first antitrust action against Apple in France. The tech giant was fined €1.1 billion ($1.2 billion) in 2020 by the French Competition Authority for antitrust violations related to restrictions in contracts with wholesalers, which it appealed. In addition, European startup association France Digitale has also been a prominent critic of Apple's practices, and was working on its own legal action.
The news of the filing was first reported by Reuters. Apple has not yet commented.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is embedded below.